Tai Nguyen Finds His Comedy Zen

(Credit Jay Rohas, Seen it All Photography)
(Credit Jay Rojas, Seen it All Photography)

Audio By Valerie, Words By Richard

(Quick housekeeping note: While Valerie normally does two part interviews, we’ve decided to make some changes in the interview format, moving from two segments per episode to one. It’s the same great content, just now in a single juicy interview. We hope you enjoy it and be back for many more to come.)

As you know, Comedy Wham focuses on Austin comedy. While many have traveled the road to be here, it’s rare to have someone land in our midst from as far away as Tai Nguyen.

Born in Vietnam, Nguyen had a brief stint in sunny California before making Austin his home. Unlike many comedians who had a steady diet of US or British humor in their early years, he came from a much more isolated environment, with nary a TV or radio (or toilet) to be found at home.

Comedy Wham Presents: Tai Nguyen

Of all things, an interest in rap videos happened to give Nguyen his first glimpse into stand-up comedy. he took an immediate liking to it, but it would still be over 5 years before he took in his first experience with live comedy. Like many other comedians in Austin, Tai Nguyen found himself being called Velveeta Room thanks to its doorman, Michael David Park. He spent many a night in the darkness of the crowd in that club. It wasn’t until June 2015 that encouragement from coworkers led him to take the next step into stepping behind the mic himself.

Besides relentlessly practicing his sets, Tai Nguyen has quickly expanded into more projects, including video sketches and perfecting his onstage “mad rap skills”(with Austin local Sam Harter) as The Ying Yang Broz. Check out their very first performance on YouTube, and find more videos weekly at their home at YingYangBroz.com. He has also appeared on Punch, and the 2016 Funniest Person in Austin Contest, barely a year after his first open mic. Nguyen is in love with the rush of performing, and it shows in everything he does.

To see more of Tai Nguyen, you can catch him co-hosting Live at Coldtowne every Friday at 10pm with Sam Harter, and find more upcoming appearances on his Last Gas Comedy page. During the interview, he even reveals an exciting project in the pipeline.

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Tai Nguyen

Valerie Lopez

Richard Goodwin

ComedyWham

Melody Shifflet: Push-ups on Broken Glass

Melody Shifflet
(Photo Credit: An Indoor Lady)

Audio By Valerie Lopez, Words By Richard Goodwin

It’s a common trope that comedy is born out of personal darkness. While Melody Shifflet has had her share (and maybe yours) of hard times in her past, she definitely doesn’t let it define her life and stage persona.

A native Texan, Shifflet started her life in Pasadena before coming to Austin, and has spent the majority of her time here ever since. In Part one of her interview, She takes Valerie Lopez through a variety of stops on a journey that served to teach her about her strengths, weaknesses, and how each help her evolve for the next phase in her future. We also learn how a zine with friends led to that tantalizing first step onto stage that has brought her to being a mainstay on the Austin comedy scene.

Melody Shifflet: The Past

When she’s not working on her joke noodle arms, Melody Shifflet has found time to be a semi-finalist in the Funniest Person in Austin contest, and has guested on the The Listening Room, a long form podcast. The Listening Room is one of the many showcases of her passion for writing. In Part two of her interview, Shifflet and Valerie dig into how she continues to drive and refine her skills in the area.

Melody Shifflet: Current

Coming up in early 2017, look for Shifflet in a new season of Stand Up Empire, the PBS series on comedy filmed right here in Austin. You’ll have to listen to learn how she’s planning to prepare her set – it’s all the rage these days.

Find more about Melody Shifflet and her upcoming shows on her Facebook and at Last Gas Comedy. She also does the picture thing on Instagram, and muses on Twitter. If you’re looking to check Shifflet’s comedy out in the near future, here are some opportunities:

  •  Bar 512, Thursday 12/15
  • WE RUN THIS (a stand up and storytelling show) at Coldtowne on 1/3 and 2/7
  • Courtney Peterson’s Senior Home Show on 1/9
  • Good Vibes at Adelbert’s on 1/11

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Kath Barbadoro: It’s Good to be Bad

Kath Barbadoro
(Photo credit: Roxy Castillo)

Audio By Valerie Lopez, Words By Richard Goodwin

How is grossly insulting someone similar to that classic, vaunted, form of prosaic delivery itself, iambic pentameter? These are the kind of questions that flow through Kath Barbadoro’s mind, and will now be inextricably linked in mine. I think I have a new goal for a skill to develop in 2017.

Every interview of Valerie’s that I cover teaches me something new about comedy and the science and art involved. I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say that her time with Kath took that to an entirely new level.

Born in New Hampshire, Kath Barbadoro grabbed her major at Grinnell College, in Iowa (shout out to Joe Barlow, fellow Iowan graduate and recurring influence in her story), before making her way to Austin. In Part one of their interview, Barbadoro takes Valerie on a journey through her early inspirations, how she chose her current home base, and how she landed an unexpected (and well deserved) role on ATX Uncensored(ish).

Kath Barbadoro: The Past 

Kath Barbadoro is in constant pursuit of perfection in her art, and in Part two of her interview, we learn more about her ambitions beyond stand up, and the story behind some of her more well known appearances like Comedy Central: Roast Battle, where she faced off with another Austin favorite, Chris Cubas, and Master Pancake, where she’s appeared with other Comedy Wham alums like Ella GaleWe also get to hear early news about an unreleased upcoming special, and her promise that, no matter where life takes her, she’ll always return to Austin. We have it on tape, Kath, and we’re holding you to it.

Kath Barbadoro: Current 

If you do the Twitters, you owe it to yourself to follow Barbadoro to keep up with her latest views on politics, life, and a million other topics. Find clips, press, upcoming dates, and more at her website, kathbarbadoro.com, and on Facebook. If you listen to podcasts, be sure and check out Wigsnatchers, featuring Kath Barbadoro, Chris Cubas, and Ralphie Hardesty.

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David McQuary: Writers Are A Word’s Best Friend

(Credit: David McQuary)
(Credit: David McQuary)

Audio By Valerie Lopez, Words By Richard Goodwin

Remember the holy trinity of childhood humor:  Garfield, the Far Side, and Mad Magazine?  Maybe that was just my religion, but David McQuary and I seem to have worshipped at the same illustrated childhood altars. Valerie talks with a lot of comedians, but not always on the topic of actual comics. While this subject, and others, weren’t specifically the roots of David McQuary’s comedy gene, they definitely played a role in where he would go, and one in particular convinced me that cows really do plot regime change when we’re not looking.

McQuary was born in Texas, spent some time in South Carolina, and returned to get a business degree at UT before moving to the Houston area he now calls home.  In part one of his interview, he and Valerie cover the beginnings of his passions for illustrating, writing, and stand up, and how a costume malfunction [eventually] led to David being a finalist in the Funniest Person in Austin contest 2 years running.

David McQuary: The Past

Austinites, and UT students especially,may be familiar with the Texas Travesty. This is where David McQuary cut his publishing teeth  – in a collaborative, writer’s room style environment. Part two of his interview, he lets us in on how an open mic coincidence landed him the gig, and the series of events that took him from there to a writing fellowship at The Onion; leading to him spending his days in a contributing writer role at the satirical paper, while still finding time to perfecting his craft for his Austin stand up appearances.

David McQuary: Current

 

To stay up to date with David, follow him Facebook and other social media sites. He promises you’ll get something out of it. If you haven’t had the chance to see him live yet, check out one of his sets from TNM Tonight, or find some of his many video appearances like That Guy Class on YouTube.

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On The Move With Ella Gale

(Credit: Erin Holsenback/ An Indoor Lady)
(Credit: Erin Holsenback/ An Indoor Lady)

Audio by Valerie Lopez, Words by Richard Goodwin

Like the origins of comedy itself, my feelings about Ella Gale may be best represented as a quantum superposition: two states at once -both joy and sadness. The former comes from the hilarity and presence she has brought to the Austin comedy scene, and the latter from the fact that she is moving to Los Angeles in early 2017. At the same time I’m also happy about her future success there. So that’s three states at least. Physics is amazing, y’all.

The oddly technical intro up there came about after listening to Valerie cover Ella Gale’s dual lives in performing and engineering (R.I.P. to the second life as of when this was recorded). I can  relate to how she methodically approaches comedic endeavours and the many videos and sketches she’s created and refined.

Ella Gale: The Past

For a young comedian, Gale has a hefty, and worldly, history behind her. Her path led through Colorado, Montana, Yemen and Austin is definitely one rarely traveled. In college, Gale took advantage of  varied Liberal Arts and Sciences topics. She picked up skills in areas that ultimately make perfect sense for the rigor and creativity she brings to stage and video. In Part One of her interview, we learn more about her history, how a bad job market and coincidental connection led to re-igniting her performing career, and how she became involved in several projects that local comedy fans will certainly know by name.

Ella Gale: Current

Fresh off a performance at the Bridgetown comedy festival in June, Valerie jumps into Part Two covering the major changes happening in Ella Gale’s life and careers. We discover how to slake our unending thirst for general (and just accurate enough) knowledge about giraffes, Los Angeles vs New York, and finally reveal the name of her agent. Don’t forget to check out Ella’s YouTube channel; she’ll know if you don’t.

Catch Ella Gale on Naughty Bits on November 11th and December 16th, the only two remaining with her at the New Movement Theater. She also has two upcoming Master Pancake shows on November 11th and 12th at the Alamo Ritz.  Find more show dates and videos at her website, ellagalecomedy.com. Be sure to follow her on Facebook. Her latest video covers a new dating service that is sure to have many rolling over in their graves, or, if you’re lucky, your bed.

Here are a few more topics to check out from the interview:

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Ella Gale

Valerie Lopez

Richard Goodwin

Comedywham

Katie Stone: Unfiltered For Your Pleasure

(Credit: Kana LiVolsi of Dos Mundos Creative)
(Credit: Kana LiVolsi of Dos Mundos Creative)

Audio by Valerie Lopez, Word by Richard Goodwin

You know those parts of past relationships that drive you insane? The parts which would help so many people if they could hear them and just understand that what they’re going through is not unique, and they have the power within them to effect change for the better? You know how you keep your experiences to yourself, because they seem too embarrassing, and no one could possibly relate? Katie Stone doesn’t do that.

Whether you follow the warped magnifying glass of her Twitter feed, read her essays on her website, or have been lucky enough to catch one of her many live shows, you know Katie Stone holds nothing back. I’m fairly certain I participated in a Twitter poll on whether she should feel bad about answering the door for a delivery after having not showered for 3 days. If you haven’t lived in that glass house, then by all means throw the first…well, you get it.

Katie Stone: The Past

In Part One of their interview, Valerie Lopez and Katie Stone dig into how experiences in school life set the stage for a career in performing for an audience. She comes to our fair city from Georgia, passing through Tulane University to nab a major in a language that has one of my favorite words of all time. (Hint: it’s ausfarht.) While comedy wasn’t at the forefront of her mind from the beginning, a chain of serendipitous events after she arrived in Austin got her back in front of people with a renewed passion.

Katie Stone: Current

Many know Katie from the Naughty Bits live show and podcast, created with local comedian Ella Gale. Naughty Bits, now in its second year, is a delightfully dirty, and sometimes touching (in the good way, pervs), look at what makes for really good and bad comedy about sex. Be sure and catch the next one on November 11th, at The New Movement Theater, which hapens to be one of the last two before Ella Gale moves on from Austin. Stone also runs the weekly Megaphone show, Saturdays at 10:30 at The New Movement Theater. In Part Two, Katie explains this unique format and where she hopes to take it.

You can also find more of Katie Stone around town at shows, open mics, on Instagram,  and in Sketch videos she’s written and directed, and those created with others. Don’t forget to to follow Naughty Bits and Trash Palace on Facebook.

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Katie Stone

Valerie Lopez

Richard Goodwin

Comedywham

Amber Bixby: Anxiety Be Damned

 

(Credit: Dustin Svehlak)
(Credit: Dustin Svehlak)

Audio By, Valerie Lopez. Word By Richard Goodwin

When catching an Amber Bixby set at Spiderhouse and she gave a peek into her experiences with anxiety and depression, I recognized a bit of everyone in her words. Or I saw a lot of me and I’m projecting, but I digress.  Like some of my favorite comedians, she isn’t afraid to cut her privacy almost down to the bone to give a look into how she deals with the world.

In Part one of her interview, we take a look at a past that we won’t quite call turbulent. Bixby shares with Valerie  Lopez how her dreams of stage stardom were born, and the circuitous route that landed her on the fair concrete shores of Austin.

Amber Bixby: The Past

The beginnings of a comedy career are rarely easy. We learn how a low point (or two or three) in Amber Bixby’s life inspired her to take on the challenge of a stand up comedy career. As a single parent, I know that time and child make for an interesting balancing act with a profession that is uniquely difficult to schedule. Amber gives us a glimpse into how she juggles priorities in passions and parenting.  We also get some great tips on getting out of the house, and how to get people to have fun in detention.

Amber Bixby: Current

When she’s not on stage (or in the gym), Amber Bixby has a prolific video career, like the web series Pretty Awful , the short film Opciono Dos (picked up by the Texas Independent Film Festival), and the instructional parenting documentary Flour Baby*.  In part two of her interview, she also covers how a past encounter led to opening for someone amazing – an opportunity that meant the world to her.

Looking for more of Amber Bixby? In addition to her special appearances, you can frequently catch her at Sure Thing, and the show she hosts Wednesdays @ 7:30 at Austin Java, Detention (See? I told you it was fun).

* Not necessarily instructional. Or legal?   

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Amber Bixby

Valerie Lopez

Richard Goodwin

Comedywham

 

Devon Walker: No Retreat, No Surrender

(Credit: Claudio Fox)
(Credit: Claudio Fox)

Audio By Valerie, Words By Richard

Fans of the Moontower Comedy Festival, will no doubt remember a historic Piranha performance when Devon Walker was one of the first comedians to turn the Shark Tank style contest on its head.  His rise to notoriety wasn’t easy, but a rocky start didn’t keep him down. Getting up – getting better and better – it’s the signature of a future star. 

Born in Washington but raised as an Austin native (with some Pflugerville thrown in. We don’t judge), Walker threw on a George Strait shirt, went back to the mic, and immersed himself in the vibrant local comedy scene… all the while simultaneously pocketing a pretty unique Master’s Degree in a subject you’ll never guess.

Devon Walker: The Past

In addition to regular appearances at Cap City Comedy Club, Walker recently tackled his first Funniest Person in Austin set, and is already planning for next year. You may also have seen him at local mainstay shows and venues like Sure Thing,  The Spiderhouse Ballroom, and Strange Brew Coffee. Shortly after this interview, Devon was also announced  as one of the new co-hosts along with Alison O’Connor, of Buzzkill Comedy on Wednesday nights at Buzzmill Coffee.

Devon Walker: Current

His confidence and discipline come through as he and Valerie discuss his plans to put all his chips on comedy. Between his Master’s Degree (which turns out to pair perfectly with his drive and strategy) and his seemingly bottomless optimism and confidence, Devon has set his sights on a bright future in Austin comedy and beyond. As you might’ve guessed, Walker is a busy dude so check out his Facebook page for upcoming events and appearances. 

Gratuitous freebie: Here’s a bonus clip from ATX Uncensored(ish) of Devon Walker, Kath Barbadoro, and more as they take offense to, well, just about everything.

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Devon Walker

Valerie Lopez

Richard Goodwin

ComedyWham

Funniest: The Life and Times of Austin Comedy

(Credit: Dustin Svehlak, Font: Mario DiGiorgio)
(Credit: Dustin Svehlak, Font: Mario DiGiorgio)

Audio by Valerie, Words by David

I’ve known Dustin Svehlak (pronounced “Sway-lock’) and Norm Wilkerson (pronounced “Norm”) for some time. As I wrote in the Katie Pengra article, I met Svehlak several years ago while he was recording material at Cap City Comedy Club, and in other venues around town. I’ve seen Wilkerson at some intentionally blue comedy shows like the Punch Comedy Cringetacular and Wilkerson’s own, Comedy Séance. He likes to occasionally cosplay as Jesus Christ’s Ivan Drago, Satan.

Wilkerson started in the comedy scene while living in the Washington D.C. area. He began his career at an age older than most of our interviewees. He quickly embraced the gritty, blue style of comedy popular in D.C at the time and brought it with him to Austin – where he’s endeared himself to the local scene. Wilkerson’s self-effacing, nonchalant style of comedy makes you love the guy, and while his comedy may make a few sensitive types cringe, it will make you think.

We’ll be seeing both of them again soon in a documentary called Funniest. Well, we’ll be seeing Norm Wilkerson along with several other Austin comedians. As for Dustin Svehlak, he was behind the camera and in the editing room with Katie Pengra.

Comedy Wham Presents: Funniest

Funniest follows Wilkerson and his peers (representing a cross-section of Austin’s stand up scene) over several weeks surrounding the 2015 Funniest Person in Austin Contest that’s held annually at Cap City Comedy Club. I could write several hundred more words about Funniest, but I want Valerie Lopez’s interview with Svehlak and Wilkerson to do the talking (no pun intended).

I will say this. Funniest isn’t only about stand-up comedy. It’s about the people behind the scene, their lives, and the events that shape their personas on the stage.  Svehlak and Pengra follow Wilkerson and his fellow comedians as they nervously have a smoke before performing their sets; deal with illness; care for loved ones; choose the path less taken; and fight time, age and the daily grind. It makes you want everyone to win the contest. Unfortunately like Highlander, there can only be one.

Details

Ah, it looks like I wrote those extra words anyway. Here are some details:  Funniest is premiering at the Austin Film Festival 8:30 pm on October 16th in the Rollins Theater at the Long Center.  If you’re unable to make that date, there will be another showing at 9 pm on Wednesday, October 19th at the Stateside Theater.  To keep up with the Funniest documentary, follow it on Facebook.  Svehlak’s other projects can be found at Voltaic Video.

As for Norm Wilkerson, despite being grey headed and a new father of twins, he’ll be donning the dark lord of Hell’s garb once again on October 29th for the annual Comedy Seance at the Spider House Ballroom at 7:30 pm.

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Funniest

Norm Wilkerson

Dustin Svehlak

Valerie Lopez

ComedyWham

 

 

Joey Zimmerman Is The Zennest

joey-zimmerman
(Credit: James Dean via Hear Nebraska)

Audio By Valerie, Words By Dave

How did Nebraska become a comedy Petri dish? Is there something in the water? The corn? Maybe it’s the atmosphere. Regardless, America’s middle child has sent Austin talented comedians like Cody Hustak, Adam Hrabik, Abby Rosenquist, Ryan Cownie and, and… and Joey Zimmerman.

Zimmerman, who is new to Austin, got his start in comedy at 21 while attending the University of Nebraska. He’s of the generation that had comedy pretty much on request. When he mentioned watching South Park while growing up, I immediately developed rickets and went outside to shake my fist at kids playing on my lawn (I’m getting old and crotchety). Age jokes aside, Zimmerman and his chill demeanor gives me hope for the future and many of us should learn from his go-with-the-flow attitude.

He decided to focus his studies in film and poetry but his parents convinced him to switch to advertising.  After graduating, he got a job copywriting and learned that advertising wasn’t his thing and quit.  Zimmerman took up a bartending gig and sought out comedy. After a coin flip, Zimmerman packed his bags and marched south to Austin.

Joey Zimmerman: The Past

Joey Zimmerman gets deep in part two of his interview with Valerie Lopez – going in depth on why he digs telling stories, and how he works out his ideas for bits and stories. This is another one of those episodes that’s great for aspiring comedians since it peels back the curtain a little bit to the joke and story creation process.

Joey Zimmerman: Current

Zimmerman has a couple of shows he puts together in town. Good Vibes is a free stand up showcase at Alderbert’s Brewery the 2nd Wednesday of every month. He also has a fresh story telling show at Genuine Joe Coffee Shop called The Listening Room on the 2nd Saturday of every month. If you’ve not gone to a story telling show, you must. They’re fascinating.  Be sure to check out Zimmerman’s website where you can see his satire of EDM Deejays.

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Joey Zimmerman

Valerie Lopez

ComedyWham